This Emergency Tote Is Perfect for Anyone Who Shops Too Much on Vacation

I’ve made a few mistakes when buying luggage. The five-piece luggage set that only cost $50? Not a good purchase. (The saying, “You get what you pay for” has merit.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, I paid far too much for a well-made white suitcase, which—despite all my efforts at scrubbing it clean—will never be free from the baggage-handler scuffs. But one travel purchase I have never, ever second-guessed is my Tumi Just In Case tote.

This is not your standard canvas grocery tote with a luxury label and a markup slapped on top. The tote is made from a hefty nylon and it has a dual-pull zipper closure at the top. The handles are sturdy, with a 7.5-inch drop that’s just long enough to hoist the bag on your shoulder if you need it. There’s also a luggage-handle sleeve on the back, if you prefer to slip it onto your carry-on or full-size suitcase. The full size of the bag is 14x23x9, but it folds into a small pouch, around the size of a quart-size bag. Both pieces—the pouch and tote—weigh a combined 0.6 pounds, and the tote is sturdy enough to survive many a trip through baggage claim.

Tumi Just In Case tote, on sale for $70 at Saks Fifth Avenue

Tumi Just In Case tote, on sale for $70 at Saks Fifth Avenue

Before I go too deep into singing the praises of the Tumi tote, let’s look at the one major drawback: at full price, it’s $100. That’s a lot of money to spend on a secondary piece of luggage. But I’m currently nine years into my relationship with my Just In Case tote, and it looks just as perfect today as it did the day I bought it. (I own it in black, so it doesn’t show stains.) If you have the resources to pay more up front for a really good piece, it’s an excellent purchase. More importantly, it’s a lifesaver if you’re dabbling in the world of basic economy air fare.

Let’s break this down.

Regardless of what airlines call it, the now-cheapest fare on most domestic airlines in the U.S. no longer includes the option of a free roll-aboard bag; instead, you must check your suitcase (typically for $30) and only carry your “small, personal item” that fits under a seat. For me, my “personal item” is my Timbuk2 backpack. I’m vigilant about restricting my carry-on items on outbound flights, but—occasionally—I have to do creative re-packing on return flights. When that happens, I pop my backpack inside the Just In Case tote, add a few extra items, and use the tote as my small personal item. Even United, which, in my experience, is the most aggressive in enforcing the Basic Economy carry-on limitations, has allowed it.

The second use case is far more common for people who love to shop: using the tote as an extra checked bag. Maybe you like to travel with a super-sized suitcase with an expansion zipper, and leave room on your outbound trip to bring back souvenirs. If that works for you, congratulations, but it’s easy to exceed the standard checked bag 50-pound weight limit rack up major fees. On Delta, for example, your first checked bag of 50 pounds or less on a domestic flight is $30, and your second is $40. An overweight bag is $100 for a 51-to-70-pound bag, and $200 for a 70-to-100-pound bag. Even if you have space in your suitcase, using the tote as a second checked bag could save you anywhere from $30 to $130 in overweight bag fees. (Pro-tip: To keep track of your baggage weight, consider traveling with the portable luggage scale from our under-$50 travel essentials list.)

The Just In Case tote comes in a variety of colors and usually one or two print options each season. While it’s boring, I can’t recommend the black bag highly enough, given its ability to hide stains. Below, we’ve collected a few of the color options, arranged in order from least expensive (print, blue, and red on sale for $69 at Macy’s) to most expensive, black for $100 at Nordstrom.) Click on any photo below to buy.

Maybe you can venture across the country or across an ocean without acquiring more textiles and trinkets, but it’s a relief to have this tote as a backup plan—just in case…

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